Editors, the Gauntlet,
Re: "Proportional representation worth a closer look" Nov. 2, 2000
Proportional representation means hung parliaments and governments by coalition, which are neither proportional, nor representative.
Oliver Letwin, a British constitution expert, refers to the absence of "proportionality of power" under coalition government evidenced by small parties remaining part of
European governments for decades with around 10 per cent of the vote. Larger parties can be completely voiceless. Politically, this is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.
Coalition governments are unstable. Italy has had more than 50 governments since WWII. Israel is just a little better.
Accountability is the cornerstone of democracy. Using first past the post, we vote for a candidate and a manifesto. We can measure performance against manifesto promises. Under PR, accountability is blurred, since no single party is in power. Under FPTP, we choose a candidate. Most PR ballots show just parties. This means we can’t select an actual person. So, if the party decides to have a crook on their team, you can’t do much about it.
You probably understand FPTP. Whoever has the most votes in a constituency wins. Easy. PR systems are complicated. The most abstract is Single Transferable Vote. It is, quite literally, mind-boggling. According to the 1998 Royal Commission Jenkins Report which analysed alternatives to FPTP in Britain, "The counting is incontestably opaque" and the ballot "resembles a caricature of an over-zealous America breakfast waiter going on posing an indefinite number of unwanted options" to the point where "it becomes both an exasperation and an incitement to the giving of random answers [by the voter]."
So, under PR, we must accept that many people won’t understand the ballot paper, or how the people in government got there.
What about time? The results of a FPTP election can be calculated within 24 hours, but it can take up to a week to calculate the results of a PR election, and then months of horse-trading before a working government is set up. You might as well just extend the current summer recess by a couple of months.
First past the post is by no means perfect, but it’s the lesser of the electoral evils.